Soil and landscape

  • VR Group is committed to ensuring that its operations do not pollute the soil or the groundwater.
  • The aim is that there are no major leaks contaminating the soil in the transport of hazardous substances or in the use of chemicals.
  • There were no major leaks in the transport of hazardous substances in 2015. However, there were three major rolling stock leaks.

Transportation of hazardous substances

During 2015, major emergency exercises were held at the railway yards Mussalo in Kotka, Niirala in Tohmajärvi, and Poitsila in Hamina. These exercises tested the effectiveness of the safety and rescue services as well as the cooperation between various actors and officials. The exercises featured an simulated tank container wagon leak. The emergency call centre, emergency services, police, Finnish Border Guard, Finnish Transport Agency, VR Group, VR Transpoint’s rail logistics, VR Track Oy, Finrail and companies and actors near the exercise areas, such as port authorities, participated in the exercises.

By the end of the year, VR Transpoint and the emergency services provided information to companies and households near railway yards that have dangerous goods transportations on how to prepare for a major emergency. The information was provided with a safety data sheet that was prepared by VR Transpoint and the emergency services.

The sheet contains overall information on the dangers that are involved in the transportation of hazardous substances in railway yards, how one should act in case of an emergency, and where you can get more information. The sheet also contained contact information for VR Transpoint and the region’s emergency services.

According to the legislation on the transport of hazardous goods, a railway company must have up-to-date safety reports for those railway yards that have been designated by the Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi as places where a significant amount of hazardous substances are transported through. In addition, the emergency services draft their own external rescue plans for the railway yards in question, as is required by the Rescue Act. According to the Decree by the Ministry of the Interior, all persons and communities that could be affected by any possible major emergencies must be informed of these plans and how to prepare for any major emergencies.

Trafi has designated the following as transport railway yards for hazardous goods: Vainikkala, Mussalo in Kotka, Poitsila in Hamina, Kouvola, Sköldvik, Riihimäki, Viinikka in Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Joensuu, Niirala, Kokkola and Ykspihlaja.

Soil decontamination

VR Group has a long history and it owns a large number of properties where soil contamination that occurred decades ago requires risk management. For many years, VR Group has been cleaning up soil contaminated in the past by rolling stock maintenance and refuelling.

In 2015, the Group spent EUR 1.1 million (EUR 1.5 million) on soil surveys and cleanup. Soil was cleaned up in Helsinki, Nivala, Oulu, Riihimäki and Turku. In Nivala, the aftermath of a train leak was cleaned from the soil. In the other locations, it was a question of new construction or changes in use.

Groundwater monitoring required by authorities was carried out at the Helsinki depot, at the Hyvinkää workshop, at the Kaipiainen rail welding workshop, at the Karjaa property, at the Kokkola locomotive sheds, at the Kouvola depot, at the Mikkeli locomotive sheds, at the site of the former Pasila workshop, at the Pori locomotive sheds, at the Riihimäki depot and at the Turku depot. At the Riihimäki depot, oil was removed from groundwater by pumping.

Three major leaks

There were three major fuel or oil leaks during the year.

In Nivala, around 3,000 litres of fuel oil was released into the soil from a derailed locomotive at the beginning of April. The fuel also leaked into the lateral ditch next to the tracks. Soil weirs were built into the ditch to help limit the fuel leak. The oil was also absorbed with absorbent materials and removed with a vacuum truck. In June, remediation measures were carried out in the area. All of the oily soil could not be removed, however, and in September a soil survey was conducted to assess the size of the contaminated area and the amount of soil that was still contaminated The removal of the rest of the contaminated soil required dismantling the tracks in the railway line area. As the target was not located in a geologically fragile area, the repairs are not considered urgent, and the soil that has been contaminated with hydrocarbon oils can be removed e.g. in connection with track maintenance work.

During the summer, two level crossing accidents caused leaks in Pello and in Rovaniemi. At the end of June in Pello, a train locomotive was damaged and leaked around 1,200 litres of diesel oil into the track bed. Part of the oil could be absorbed and removed. At the beginning of July in Rovaniemi, a gravel truck hit the side of a locomotive, damaging the locomotive and breaking the transformer oil container of the train’s electric locomotive. According to assessments, around 2,000 litres of transformer oil leaked into the track bed. In addition, the truck’s hydraulics oil leaked into the level-crossing area. The emergency services plugged the locomotive’s leaking container and also absorbed some of the gravel truck’s hydraulics oil.

Test hole investigations were made in both places to determine the size of the contaminated area. Neither place was located in a groundwater area, so based on the surveys, the damages do not pose a major environmental risk. The contaminated soil will however be removed in connection with track maintenance procedures at the latest.

Determining responsibilities

The examination of responsibilities concerning the polluted sediments of Pajuluoma in Seinäjoki is still ongoing. There have been a large number of operators in the area over the years and the pollution occurred decades ago. The pollution is partially a result of the activities during the period when the Finnish State Railways had operations at the rail yard. VR Group has cleaned up the soil of the site in its possession and surveys show that contaminants are no longer discharged from the area into Pajuluoma.

In summer 2014, the ELY Centre for Southern Ostrobothnia submitted an application for administrative constraint to the Regional State Administrative Agency for Western and Inland Finland requesting the agency to order VR Group and the Finnish Transport Agency and, secondarily, the State of Finland, to clean up the contaminated sediments in an area covering one kilometre. The matter is still pending.

Outlook

VR Group is continuing to develop its operations so that leaks originating from its rolling stock can be prevented.

Soil cleanup will continue as part of changes in land use and construction activities. The areas owned by VR Group in city centres are sought-after sites for office and housing construction. Changes in urban structures and the trend towards more compact cities will also increase the need for decontamination of the sites.